The good news? Puerto Rico is a little bit better than the Dominican Republic overall, boasting better back court talent.
The bad news? They're still not nearly good enough to challenge the USA.
I hate to throw down my conclusion so early, but Puerto Rico is really hurting for quality big men. Their only players over 6'7" are Carlos Lopez-Sosa and Matthew Lopez. Both of them are young players who completely flamed out of their respective division 1 colleges, and have continued to struggle while playing for Puerto Rico. They do provide some essential size that can get the team by when they need to rebound against Gustavo Ayon of Mexico or Jack Michael Martinez of the Dominican Republic. But when Puerto Rico's bigs go up against a guy like Anthony Davis....the results will be disastrous. It's kind of a shame, because Peter John Ramos really used to bring legitimacy to this team.
Still, Puerto Rico isn't afraid to go small. On average, they play about 10 minutes a game without any traditional big on the floor, and boast five players in their rotation standing at 6'3" and under. It's appropriate, then, that over half of the team's attempts at this year's Centrobasket were from three, and that they averaged a healthy 21 free throws a game. The team relies upon scoring above all else, and they will rack up the points against bad teams. By the same token, a shooting draught will absolutely kill them. Puerto Rico racks up far too many fouls defensively, and will gift the other team points too often to ever really make a strong stand.
In terms of individual talent, Puerto Rico's best player by far is Jose Juan Barea. Mr. Barea is most famously known in Oklahoma City as the guy who destroyed the Thunder's hopes in 2011. Ever since then, he's regularly taken advantage of the Thunder's slowness and propensity to gamble on the perimeter. Against Team USA, I can see him having a big game. I know that Irving and Rose have done a great job pressuring teams, but I believe that Barea will be quick enough to get past that and set up his team's offense the majority of the time.
Barea will likely be looking for Mike Rosario, a 2006 McDonald's All-American, the most. He's a dynamite scorer that can wax and wane like the tides of the moon. But when Rosario's on, he has a really mean stepback jumper and is ridiculously reliable with the corner catch and shoot three. Rosario even once went off for 54 against New Zealand in 2009, so the potential for him to catch fire is there. He'll also be playing near his home state of New Jersey, so he'll have some extra motivation.
Beyond those two, Puerto Rico is a collection of role-playing specialists. Filberto Rivera is the team's third scorer. He can't create for himself, but he's really crafty near the rim and can pass and shoot decently enough. Los Gallos' fourth and fifth best scorers, Ramon Clemente and Devon Collier, do most of their work in the post. Ramon Clemente, the first, is a high-flying dunker that's good at cutting to the rim while his defender isn't looking. He can also bully his way to a few points, as well as catch and shoot jumpers. Collier mostly just rolls to the hoop and uses his length, but he's good at rebounding and can nab a block a game. The last of Puerto Rico's rotation - Bimbo Carmona, Carlos Rivera, and Carlos Lopez-Sosa - are all three point shooters, primarily.
So, given this information, don't be surprised if Puerto Rico is hot and able to produce a few runs. They're quick enough to beat Team USA up and down the floor, and savvy enough to space things out for some easy threes. It's doubtful that any of this will be sustainable, given Puerto Rico's problems down low that I described above.
As for Team USA? This game should be an opportunity for them to get some definitive answers. Most importantly, they're hoping to answer the questions surrounding Derrick Rose's health. He sat out two practices and Wednesday's game against the Dominican Republic, but Coach K has insisted that Rose will play tonight. Otherwise, there's still a lot of questions surrounding the roster, and who's in or out. Certain players appear to be locks at this point, but there's still a lot of questions surrounding the lower half of the team. No player has posted an overtly poor performance or gotten significantly less playing time than another, so anything anyone says is almost pure speculation at this point.
Prediction: Team USA 111, Puerto Rico 89.
What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!